Baking Brandy with Karen Burrell

Faith inspired her recipes for beer soup and Kahlua fudge.

It’s a cookbook, packed with recipes for sweets and savories, but it begins with lines from Scripture: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

Karen Burrell likes the sound of these words. As a devout Christian, she respects their source. But she’s also taken with how aptly they appear to capture her motivation for writing the book in the first place. The key word is “medicine.”

The Spirit Within comprises two hundred recipes made with fermented and distilled beverages, from Amaretto to Zinfandel — with bourbon, Creme de Menthe, Drambuie, Frangelico, Triple Sec, whiskey, and dozens more types in between.

“When people hear that I wrote this book, they think I must be an alcoholic,” said the Livermore native, who will be at the Dublin Public Library (200 Civic Plaza, Dublin) on Saturday, December 18. “But I don’t drink it. I just cook with it. Most people don’t know about the health benefits of alcohol, but they should. People who have one drink a day live longer than teetotalers — especially after the age of fifty.”

It’s true: Studies such as one published last year in the British Medical Journal indicate that men who consume about two drinks a day and women who consume one drink a day outlive non-drinkers. Results were especially positive for wine drinkers, perhaps because of the antimicrobial agent resveratrol, contained in grape skins.

Burrell is helping to bolster America’s alcohol consumption — for our own good — with beer brisket, Kahlua flan, and tequila tenderloin. Every course of every meal can be amplified with alcohol, said Burrell, who experimented with standard recipes to create such dishes as Scotch-ale potatoes, “Ham-Beer-Grrs,” and schnapps-infused Black Forest cupcakes with vodka-spiked frosting.

“If you find a standard recipe that calls for apple juice, why not use wine? If you have a recipe that calls for orange juice, why not use Grand Marnier?” Thus evolved maple-Merlot bread and Grand Marnier rhubarb pie.

“Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine,” said Burrell. “He wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t good for you. He went to lots of events where wine was being served, so clearly it’s okay to have that.”

An avid home cook who is also an award-winning professional clown, Burrell was inspired to write the book because of alcohol’s potential health benefits, “and because I want to share my faith.” She consulted to find the food-related Scripture that peppers each chapter.

“But I didn’t want to have so much in there that it would put off people who don’t read the Bible,” she said.

To readings, she always brings samples to share: Microwave-made Kahlua cream fudge is a crowd-pleaser, she said. She also brings stacks of the bookmarks she designed to accompany The Spirit Within: “Go, eat your food with gladness,” they exhort, quoting Ecclesiastes 9:17, “and drink your wine with a joyful heart.” 1 p.m., free.


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